Export of evil from Scandinavia? (updated)

Article published on June 26, 2009
community published
Article published on June 26, 2009
I know this post will be controversial, and I want to assure everyone that I would never generalise on the cases I describe, or invent any conspiracy theories. Yet I have found three news particularly disturbing. What do you think of when you hear "Scandinavia"?
Passionately defended gender equality, welfare state and an active role of the government in shaping social structures and educating the society. This is an important part of the Scandinavian identity, as much as I've witnessed, and of the region's international branding. Scandinavian experts are active in international peacekeeping efforts, consult governments and civil society actors abroad on gender equality, conflict management, civic democracy, social policy, etc.

However, what do some Scandinavians expect outside of their neat and comfortable countries?

* Story No 1. A Danish businessman has recently been charged with rape and physical assault. He supposedly hired a Lithuanian student as a teacher for his son, and, using the opportunity, locked her in his flat, beat her up and raped numerous times. Since she happened to have two mobile phones and he took only one away, she managed to escape to the bathroom and call the police. After the crime was publicised, more women started voicing complaints against this businessman, saying that they were previously afraid to contact the police. He would always use the same strategy - hire young women who speak fluent Danish, offering them good job opportunities. His colleagues suspect that he was also frequently making passes on his female colleagues, but went unpunished. The latest victim said he was humiliating her verbally, too, saying that she's just a Lithuanian bitch, not worth anything more than what happened to her. The rapist has some shady business in Vilnius and has allegedly fled Denmark due to some tax-related charges.

* Story No 2. In the recent investors' forum, a Norwegian businessman made a remark that Lithuania is an attractive country to invest because "Lithuanians are hard-working and don't take sick leave". This is due to the fact that employee protection is very limited, and people are afraid to lose their jobs. Therefore they wait until their diseases get unbearable. Of course, employers don't usually care about that.

* Story No 3. Norwegian oil and gas group StatoilHydro, 67% state-owned, is trying to reverse a ban on the sale of alcohol at petrol stations in Lithuania. The ban has proved effective in reducing accidents due to alcohol use - one of the major problems in the country. The company claims that its sales went down drastically, and this will result in laying off employees. Unemployment in Lithuania has soared due to the crisis, and Statoil owns lots of petrol stations. Alcohol laws are much stricter in Norway, and the company claims that the previously liberal alcohol policies were the factor that convinced them to invest in Lithuania.

What is clear in all of these cases is that the three Scandinavian employers, individually and collectively, do not treat people here as human beings. For them, Lithuanians are productive animals to be exploited for commerce or pleasure. This dehumanisation goes against everything what would be defined as Scandinavian values: respect for women, welfare state and government's active role in educating and guiding the society...

What I have also heard was that many Scandinavian experts and advisers (yet this is not proved by any scientific research or anything), who are too right-wing-radical for their home countries, were transferred to the Baltics during the post-Soviet transition. Here they could freely experiment with the most extreme neoliberal "shock therapy" policies, which have left thousands finding themselves below the poverty level, committing suicides or emigrating.

In addition, there was a famous case when a Danish company wanted to build a pig farm against the will of the community, which would suffer from the smell. As far as I've heard, Danish pig farms are of very high standards and pretty much harmless, yet in the Baltics they don't feel like they have to import the domestic practices. For one of my friends, pig farms are a symbol of degrading industrialism, which puts animals, along with people, into strictly confined cots to extract utility and then get rid of them.

Now, I'm not saying that it's some kind of policy to send these dehumanisers to the Baltics. Simply, they would never find a niche in their home countries. They would simply be arrested or fined, or go bankrupt. Labour unions, NGOs and activists would have something to say. Here, investors expect to be treated like gods just because they are foreign and because they bring money to the country.

Therefore what strikes me is not the fact that exploitation happens, or that exploiters come from Scandinavia (crime, too, happens everywhere), but the fact that, judging from the narratives (the "bitch" narrative of the rapist, the slave trader's "health" narrative of the investor and the blackmailing narrative of Statoil), these people are certain that they have some kind of coloniser's right to what they do or what they want to do.

This vicious relationship that to some extent has been developing between the Scandinavian countries and the Baltics has another side, too. It helps to ease the domestic pressures, I assume. Just the fact that the government and many other actors in these societies seem very keen on eradicating exploitation doesn't mean that all of the sudden everyone in these societies is suddenly free from the temptation to exploit. Scandinavian women have become independent and self-assertive, but that doesn't mean that all Scandinavian men stopped dreaming of being a macho. Scandinavian workers know their rights, but that doesn't mean that employers have abandoned the temptation to exploit. Governments are stubborn to disallow exploitation on the basis of addictions, but businesspeople want to exploit addictions elsewhere. Therefore certain disturbing equilibriums have developed with the Baltics. Alcohol is expensive and its use is limited in other ways in Scandinavian countries - go to Estonia! This is almost an official policy. It is typical that Scandinavian men travel to the Baltics expecting cheep drinks and cheap women. Here, they can reclaim their macho identity  and let the steam down. Businesspeople also treat the countries they invest as "female" (and I'm certainly not the first sociologist to speak about that): their societies and governments have to be submissive (see Statoil's blackmailing message again), healthy to reproduce, and just happy to be picked up. Thus, employers' behaviour is another kind of machism here in the Baltics.

Otherwise, unhappy with the development of their own societies, they could probably vote out the powers behind this development.

The vicious relationship between the Baltics and Scandinavian countries (I'm not claiming, once again, that this excludes the existence of virtuous relationships) is therefore reaching this equillibrium: the best from the Baltics are supposed to go to Scandinavia (just think of the massive emigration of doctors and nurses to Norway, and of scientists to Sweden), while the worst from Scandinavia are supposed to go to the Baltics.